Microsoft has opened the beta of OneCare to the general public, inviting Windows users everywhere to test the new all-in-one security suite that provides integrated antivirus, antispyware, and firewall capabilities. Redmond had originally restricted the trial to a select number of testers.
In May of this year, Microsoft had announced it was planning to launch OneCare as a subscription-based security service that would also offer PC tune-up tools.
It then invited selected testers to try out the service in July. OneCare now is available for use on a trial basis by anyone with a U.S. version of Windows XP with Service Pack 2. The service is expected to be launched on a commercial basis next year and will go head-to-head against similar offerings by Symantec, McAfee, and other security-software vendors.
In a blog posted on its Web site, the OneCare development team said that the reason for restricting the number of people involved in the initial trial was to gather useful feedback. The blog stated that the Microsoft developers have now incorporated the feedback they received from the initial round of testing into a new version of OneCare, which went live on November 29.
The new version can be downloaded for free from www.ideas.live.com. However, the blog warned that although the software is now available to the public, Microsoft might direct users to a temporary waiting list. "These pauses will allow us to see how we're doing and assess our readiness to scale to the next level," the blog posting said.
In an e-mail, a Microsoft spokesperson said that, since July, participants in the managed trial of OneCare have numbered in the thousands. "According to Microsoft internal figures, 77 percent of customers involved in the managed trial say they would recommend Windows OneCare Live to a friend or relative," the spokesperson wrote in the e-mail.
New features added to OneCare since the summer include backups to external hard drives; scanning files or folders with a mouse right-click; automatic scans of files received via MSN Messenger; automated assistance in uninstalling products that conflict with OneCare; and integration of OneCare with the Microsoft Update service.
OneCare runs in the background, automatically updating itself as new Internet security threats are revealed. The software also performs regular PC maintenance tune-ups and helps users back up their data. In addition, it allows users to restore previously deleted files.
Competing with AV Vendors
The launch of OneCare will bring Microsoft into direct competition with antivirus and firewall software vendors such as Symantec, Sophos, and McAfee. Microsoft signaled its entry into the antivirus space when it bought Romanian antivirus software vendor GeCad Software two years ago. Symantec declined to comment for this story.
"Microsoft's venture into producing antivirus software for consumers is likely to be a thorn in the side of those security vendors who protect home users," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "Microsoft will, however, face considerable challenges in presenting itself as a credible security vendor for enterprises. It is likely that a large number of future viruses will be designed to specifically subvert Microsoft's antivirus product, just as its antispyware and firewall products have been targeted in the past."
A poll conducted after the high profile Zotob worm outbreak in August 2005 found that 35 percent of respondents thought that Microsoft was to blame rather than the worm's actual author, said Cluley, as the worm exploited a critical security vulnerability in the Windows operating system code. "However, if the launch of OneCare gets more home users using up-to-date antivirus software, then this has to be good news for everyone else on the Internet."